A Smock-Frock from 1938

Today, a smock is understood as a variant of an apron – it is a loose over-garment worn to protect one’s clothing.  A frock is a now outdated term for a dress of any length or style.  Both terms may sound like something quite frumpy to wear.  Yet, I have the contrary to show as proof that a smock-frock can be fashionable.  Our modern understanding of many items we take for granted in common living are often sorely lacking in a realization of full historical context.  “Dig a little deeper” is my intuitive response after being an academic researcher for many years! 

In sewing, using vintage patterns is a good practice for opening one’s eyes to facets of fashion history previously either unknown or forgotten, as they leave enticing trails of interest in bygone definitions.  Recently, an old original 1938 Marian Martin pattern design I acquired and used for my early spring sewing has made me realize a new term – the smock-frock.  For as simple and unassuming as this newest dress project is (daily wear vintage clothes in comfy cotton are so handy to have in my wardrobe), it has certainly led me to discover yet another aspect from the annals of fashion.  Nevertheless, whether or not this dress taught me something along the way to completion, any dress that ends up being as easy to wear as a nightgown yet looks street worthy chic – with pockets as big as a small purse – is a winner in my estimation!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a printed cotton

PATTERN:  Marian Martin #9602, year 1938

NOTIONS NEEDED:  all I needed was thread and some bias tape for some simple neckline finishing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was a quick project, made in about 7 hours and finished in February 2022

THE INSIDES:  I merely stitched over the edges a few times to prevent any fraying, and trimmed any fly-away threads from the fabric for clean but semi-raw edges

TOTAL COST:  On sale at my local JoAnn Fabrics store, buying 3 yards of this fabric cost me about $27

Happily, the seller that I purchased from studied up for the listing and included information from an old newspaper ad which was selling my same pattern.  Thus, that person’s amazing preliminary research is the only reason I know why Marian Martin no.9602 is called “a smock-frock” design to begin with.  Now, to appropriately continue my terminology tirade from above, a smock-frock is basically a centuries old garment primarily worn by British laborers and working class people.  Only in the last 150 years did it turn into a comparatively decorative garment to wear on its own for children’s play and ladies’ housework.  Smock-frock garments often had extensive embroiderd hand stitched work (for an alliteration of the word) to control the overall generous fit in precise places  on the garment.  This type of embellishment became highly decorative between the Victorian times and the 1930s, being more ornamental than a pure design element, and its popularity muddied the understanding of the term smock-frock.  

To make things more confusing, in the history of the clerical world, a frock is an outer garment…but so is an apron.  The Wikipedia page says, “It is uncertain whether smock-frocks are ‘frocks made like smocks or ‘smocks made like frocks’ – that is, whether the garment evolved from the smock, the shirt (or underdress) of the medieval period, or from the frock, an over garment of equally ancient origin.”  All this boils down to the fact that this late 1930s smock frock was a meld of the words, besides being a relatively modern take on two very ancient type of garments.  I am surprised this garment-related form of the term was even still in use enough for 1938 to add it onto the pattern description.  It is so close to what I would term a plain housedress, or even a hostess dress (which I explain in this post here) if sewn up of a decently nice material.  Smocking – as a style of stitch – has continued to be popular beyond the 1930s primarily on cultural inspired clothing or novelty designs as well as children’s clothes.

I am wondering if the use of this term here is because Marian Martin designs were something catered to smaller, rural town residents even though the parent company to the pattern line was based in New York City.  Living away from a big town can be someplace where old terms are still commonplace, so a smock-frock would have been well known amongst agricultural worker’s families of the 1930s. I do take note that the cover illustration portrays a young woman modeling.  I wonder if the design of this pattern would have been something that the older generations would have gravitated to before the youth of 1938 would have.  You can clearly see the Depression Era thrifty sensibilities in the fact that this pattern could be used to make several different designs – dresses with two differing necklines and closures, or an apron.  There are many possibilities here!  Marian Martin is a distant cousin to the lines of Anne Adams, Alice Brooks, American Weekly, and Laura Wheeler (needlework) – all patterns were owned by the same parent company at one point or another (see more info on that here). 

Having sewn a handful of patterns from this group of mail order patterns (my previous Marian Martin posted here, an American Weekly dress posted here, and an Anne Adams pinafore posted here), I have found them to generally run on the larger fitting size.  This one did not disappoint.  It was marked as a bust 32”, hips 35” and so I graded in 4 inches to bring it up to my size according to the instruction’s chart.  As it turned out, I had to pinch out a total of 4 inches overall as I was fitting this dress to myself during construction.  The realization of that blows my mind at just how large this pattern’s size was…lucky thing I was able to save this project from drowning me in fabric!  The hemline even came down to the ground on me according to the “dress length” as given by the pattern.  Refitting all the princess and side seams, as well as re-cutting the neckline and armscye made this easy-to-make design a bit more time-consuming.  It was still pretty simple to sew these adjustments because there was no pattern matching to worry about and I was fitting it along the way to completion. 

I knew ahead of time that the busy print would conceal the smock-frocks details, but they are simple and few so I was okay with that happening.  There are princess seams which divide the back and the front into a six panel dress.  There are big, generous pockets tucked in between seams to the front side panels just at hip length.  Then, the sleeves have puffed caps and a box pleat at the outer centered hem.  Finally, two ties come out from above the front princess seam just above the pockets so as to bring in the waist and shape the dress by tying in the back.  The attached ties make this dress reminiscent of a hostess dress, as I mentioned above (and posted about here).  It is the fact I have the ties – and the way I gave up fitting the dress to me any further after bringing it in by 4 inches – which lets me get away with no zipper or buttons or closure.  Contrary to the pattern, I cut the center back on the fold and lowered the V neckline so that this was an easy-peasy slip-on garment. 

A word or two needs to be said about my ascot neck scarf.  I made that, too!  It was cobbled together into being a long, tapered rectangle of two scraps leftover from making this sheer chiffon 1950s redingote.  A small French seam goes down the center to connect the two scraps, then went to my local sewing room and used their serger (overlocker) to stitch a tiny rolled hem edge finish.  I love making my own scarf!  It is yet another little but very useful outlet I recently discovered to use up scraps of lightweight material.  My neck is often chilly in both air conditioning and cool spring or fall days.  Also, my hair styles need protection from wind and rain, so I use sheer scarves a lot in all seasons.  This handmade version was just the thing I needed in lieu of a necklace or contrast belt to give my dress a splash of something extra.  It kept my neck cozy for these pictures, too, as the sunshine was warm that day but spring is still slow in coming here.  The neckline is pretty basic otherwise.  A vintage stick pin keeps my scarf in place on my dress, here tied in the manner of an ascot.

My fabulous shoes bring my dress way above its original humble smock-frock designation, but they are such a fun pairing here I couldn’t resist!  They are part of my latest and greatest shoe splurge purchase.  Miss L Fire Company was going out of business a few months ago so I *had* to snatch up several styles I have longed under deep clearance prices.  These are the popular Miss L Fire “Clarice” heels, made of color blocked leather suede panels with tie ankle straps.  These color blocked beauties make me forget I have heels on, but really elevate my outfit, as well as anything else I pair with them.  Just as I did with my scarf, I wanted to channel everything I love about the panache that 1930s street wear displays with killer accessories.  Even if this is just a homely cotton dress, I can show how versatile it is my making it fancier than it really is!  A great pair of shoes always helps in such a situation.  Believe me, there is no better company for statement footwear with high quality and superior comfort. Miss L Fire’s offerings are so well made and so comfortable but so standout chic, it is a true loss that they are relegated to the second hand market now. 

There is so much more I could have written in regards to smock-frocks, but I didn’t want to end up boring anyone and end up with too long of a post.  I have just found so much depth of interest in the history behind this basic little dress I whipped together!  What I didn’t mention above, is the irony of how it combines the masculine (through the working man’s shirt smock) with the feminine (a frock dress) in such a unique way.  Even still, the supreme mockery to my 1938 incarnation of a house-frock is the fact that it turned out so appealingly cute.  It is meant to be so utilitarian as to not give a darn about keeping it pristine yet I will be sad the first time it gets marred.  I don’t want to destroy it too quickly, but I also don’t want to let that hold me back from enjoying this dress whenever I want.  This is why I made it – to be worn, appreciated, and practical.  The print is so busy it shouldn’t be too noticeable when I do eventually end up staining, tearing, or otherwise using my dress as the pattern intended.  If this was going to be a true smock-frock, it was going to have to live up to its name and be a practical, work-horse kind of piece for me.  I always need these kind of clothes.  They truly do take a beating, though, but I think appear none the worse for their wear.  This mid-1940s dress is my go-to well-worn housedress, next to this cranberry cotton shirtdress, and my “Dust Bowl” Burda dress.  I am happy to have a real-deal 1930s house dress now, as I have only had ones from the 40’s until now!

I really hope to sew with this pattern again in the future using yet another charming cotton print, so this is not a one-hit-wonder here.  Perhaps next time I will choose the short, hip-length smock version that buttons down the back and has the Peter Pan collar.  Maybe I will just sew another dress version because it so handy and darn comfortable.  I also want to try out the “Edith Smock” from “Pattern Union”.  It is a zero-waste design with amazing details and a style strongly reminiscent of working smocks of old, only with large roomy pockets and billowy sleeves for the modern romantic in you.

I hope you enjoyed this little post on my smock-frock, and learned about a new facet of fashion history.  Please, give this post proper credit if you share elsewhere what you learned about here.  Also, remember to stay inquisitive and keep finding answers to the interesting questions of your own making.  Perhaps you will uncover something that will fascinate, teach, and entertain you just as much as I have found in the process of creating and wearing my smock-frock!

Modern Beauty

Superficial standards for beauty are fickle beasts to follow – they come and go, change and go out-of-style, caring nothing for humanity.  I prefer appreciating the more meaningful qualities.  When it comes to princesses, Belle from Disney’s 1991 animated fairytale movie, has the spunk, self-confidence, intelligence, love of learning, independent spirit, concern for family, and loving heart enough to be beautiful in more ways than the frivolous!   Now that I’m older, the tale of “Beauty and the Beast” seems weirder to me than when I was little, yet Belle is still “my” princess nonetheless.  The fact she loves to read, has brown hair and eyes (both like me), and is of a different breed of Disney “royalty” always has resonated with me.  Goodness, my parents bought me the special “New Adventures of Beauty and the Beast” comic books, the dolls, and handheld game when I was a child because I couldn’t get enough of Belle’s story!

Thus, her iconic golden yellow dress was the first creation I made for my “Pandemic Princess” series.  My mom had sewed me a version of that dress for a beauty pageant when I was little.  This time around, Belle’s ball dress was my birthday present to myself in 2019, and it became the catalyst to all the rest of the Disney outfits which have followed since.  My birthday is always my day to feel like a princess, anyway, so being able to wear this gloriously swishy, glamorous dress was a dream come true!  As I just had my special day come around again, I thought it appropriate to post this particular dress now.

This is also my most recognizable ‘copy’, where you can easily see my inspiration.  Yet, as I have said in my flagship announcement for the series (posted here), many of my princess inspired are channeled through the lens of the year the movie was released.  In this case, I found a pattern from circa 1991 which had a similar silhouette, neckline, and shoulder details to Belle’s dress, with just my kind of interesting tweak to the style.  I always have to take an original interpretation to be happy and this is why I call this my “Modern Beauty” dress!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  the exterior is an all rayon twill, with the body lined in an all-cotton, and the sleeves lined in a golden tan polyester; several layers of pre-ruffled sheer golden organza become the attached petticoat to the dress’ lining

PATTERN:  McCall’s #5999, year 1992

NOTIONS:  one 22” invisible zipper and lots of thread, with a bit of embroidery floss for some hand stitching

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This took about 25 to 30 hours to make and was finished August 1, 2019.

THE INSIDES:  all raw edges are covered up by the full body lining

TOTAL COST:  Each yard of the rayon twill fabric was on closeout for $6 through Hobby Lobby, and the cotton was the basic broadcloth from JoAnn Fabrics.  The ruffled chiffon was a remnant on clearance from JoAnn Fabrics for $10 at one yard.  Altogether, this dress cost me about $50.

First off, you have no idea how I fussed over finding the right golden color to create this dress!  When searched for a “golden” color, I found tones of beige, yellow, and orange.  Even then, one cannot trust the accuracy of what a computer screen is showing you will receive.  What I see in Belle’s dress is primarily a very orange toned yellow, though, one that will go with beige tones well.  My rayon twill outer fabric was originally (on its own) much brighter than I wanted.  However, the fact is was semi-sheer gave me the opportunity to turn the shade into just what I was looking for by having the lining be darker.  The true color as it turned out was hard to capture in photos…whether I’m in full sun or the shade changes the tone.  Yes, I know I am a perfectionist but I think it pays off in the end. 

As this is a princess seamed dress, it is not only appropriate in theme but also a very big fabric hog.  The pattern needed much more than the 3 yards of both the rayon and its lining that I had on hand, but I was feeling cheap and didn’t want to buy anymore.  A midi length dress was my ideal, as it is less formal but still elegant.  I trimmed down the width of the flare to the skirt from the hips to accommodate my shorter yardage yet still keep the length.  Even still, the skirt is so very full, making the dress quite heavy, and I’m glad there isn’t any more than 3 yards to each layer.  Yes, that means there are six yards in total, not counting the yard of double layered ruffled trimming to the hem, whew! 

As much as I like an open shouldered look, I reconciled myself to something more sensible for my version of Belle’s hallmark gown.  A dress this substantial that is also strapless sounded like a nightmare to turn out successful unless I added a fully structured bodice much like what was done to couture gowns in the era of the 1950s.  This is a 90’s dress that – though well shaped to my body and fancy, too – I intended to be wearable by being effortless and casual.  A structured body would counter that. 

Neither did I want to do the ‘’work” and once a sewing project becomes drudgery to me, it is no longer enjoyable, and that completely defeats the intended purpose of my sewing, especially when it comes to fun princess outfits.  The hem ruffles are added to the lining to eliminate the need to wear a crinoline yet still softly shape the skirt…easy, right?  Along this vein, the shoulder straps were added to support the heavy dress without needing an internal structured bodice.  I can pop this dress on then zip it up without any specialty lingerie, fussy closures, or restrictive shaping needed.  I was wanting a princess dress for modern times, and I kept it that way.  There’s no use to even making this dress at all if I’m not the one ecstatic about it!

Of course, I still have the dropped, off-the shoulder sleeves, just like the inspiration gown.  Of course, if I was to get technical, Belle didn’t really have sleeves – just a shoulder drape that is part of an extended neckline decoration which to me looks like a home décor sash.  My dress’ sleeves are so much cuter and easier to wear than I already expected.  They are joined under the arm only up to the nearest princess seam and merely float over my arm.  I absolutely love this feature although it does fool me into thinking that the sleeves are going to fall off!  (Silly me, I forget they are attached.)  It made for some interesting sewing that I haven’t done before, that’s for certain.  In the future, if I want a ‘closer to the original’ kind of cosplay piece, it would be easy to add to my dress some sort of shoulder/neckline drape (as well as skirt draping) like what was on Belle’s gown.  

As I couldn’t bear to just plainly top-stitch down the sweetheart neckline or leave it blank, I did some simple decorative hand-stitching across the front.  I made a stitch that calls to mind some sort of chain because I was thinking about how weird it was the way Belle transformed her captivity under the Beast.  We tend to forget that she was a ‘prisoner’, in one way or another, for most of the movie.  Belle had many good qualities, but her honest regard for her life situations wasn’t one of them.  Just one small touch in the details of my dress alludes to my current adult outlook on the animated film. 

There are several significant pairings with my outfit which help me fully immerse myself into Belle’s world.  The most important of any accessory is the red roses I’ve included.  The real roses I am holding were part of a dozen which were gifted to me as a birthday present from my Aunt on my mom’s side.  The necklace rose is a memento piece from my Grandmother on my dad’s side.  My mirror – like my roses – might not be magic, but still special.  The mirror is part of a sterling silver dresser set (including comb and brush) that I received from my parents as a present when a young girl.  Yet, it was my background setting which is what really helped me feel totally in character for these pictures.  It is an old abandoned stone church that has been shored up and overtaken by ivy but left to become a now popular photo location in the city.  It completely reminds me of the stately but derelict atmosphere of the Beast’s castle. 

I hope you too can relate to my Belle inspiration here because I know “Beauty and the Beast” is one of the most popular fairytales and has received many other iterations other than through Disney.  The original story is even more enchanting than any Hollywood version, though.  Nevertheless, it is great to relive a childhood memory in a tactile way, especially when it’s a good memory.  So far, this is not my most worn princess creation, but it might be my favorite just because of the treat that it is and the way I interpreted it.  I wish for such a euphoric garment on everybody…especially on their birthdays!

“No Chance! No Way! I Won’t Say It…”

…I won’t say – out load – I’m in love…with 1990s fashion, that is!  (Congrats to the person who can already recognize the song reference!)

Such news is a bit awkward to admit for me but it is a wholehearted truth now, especially after making this post’s project.  The dive of renewed interest in the classic Disney princesses last year via sewing my “Pandemic Princess” series of course necessitated acknowledging the fashion of the 90’s.  This ‘confession’ in my fashion taste comes only a few years after I reluctantly acknowledged I had fallen for the 80’s back when I made this Givenchy suit (posted here).  Then, my 1996 Emanuel Ungaro suit anchored my positive views of that era.  Previous to a year ago, I have not sewn anything from the 90’s since I was a teenager.  Ah, what am I turning into!?  This time, I can be completely justified in blaming my change of heart on the intensely independent, highly charismatic, acutely cynical, and generally unrecognized princess Megara of the 1997 animated film “Hercules”.  

Meg inspired me to make a flowing, Grecian-inspired maxi dress which highlights her trademark colors of purple and golden yellow, using both a soft polyester print and a sewing pattern from the era of the 90’s.  My dress – like Meg’s – has an empire waist, skinny shoulder straps, long and curving princess seaming, and an ankle skimming length.  Yet, true to the gunge fad of the era from which the movie was released, I am not content with it to be just a sundress.  I’m wearing this as a jumper layered over a slouchy, dated, thrifted turtleneck.  Practically speaking, this dress is too pretty to keep for just the warm weather anyways! 

However, the real inspiration which helped me channel my Meg dress was the character Phoebe (portrayed by actress Lisa Kudrow) from the television show “Friends”.  A sundress over a knit top is 100% Phoebe’s style!  Fashion aside, I believe Phoebe to be Meg’s 90’s twin in traits and personality.  (Seriously, though, I could see them liking the same assorted, haphazard fashion, too).  They both have a sarcastic, dry humor because they see the world free of rosy tinted glasses after having become very street-wise.  They both are admirably, boldly unafraid to speak what is on their quick-witted minds.  Nevertheless, behind the jaded outlook, both women are still soft-hearted, innocent, and sentimental.  Phoebe is my favorite character out of “Friends” and Megara is the Disney ‘anti-princess’ who has more recently earned my high esteem for being “a big tough girl” who can “take care of herself”.  This outfit of mine compliments the strong and soft sides which I share in common with both spunky screen ladies.

Funny enough, the statue behind me in the garden is Juno, the Roman equivalent of Hera, queen of the gods in Greek mythology.  In the myth and not the Disney version, Hercules was the son of Jupiter, the supreme god of Olympus, and Alcmene, a mortal married woman.  Juno, the wife of Jupiter, hated Hercules because he was the most famous and successful of Jupiter’s numerous illegitimate progeny.  I could only image what a first meeting with Hercules’s family might be like for Megara.  Nevertheless, I imagine Meg could hold her own very well with the militaristic Juno.  Even though my background setting isn’t as classical as I would have liked, I do enjoy the subtle nod to the Hercules by including Juno.  That not all, however!  At the same Botanical Garden, we also found a fountain of Persephone, the wife of Hades and the Queen of the Underworld.  After the foul way Hades used Meg when he had her under a soul bondage, the myths seem to show he had learned how to (somewhat) respect a woman by the time he married Persephone.

I want to give a shout out to the seamstress Eszter (on IG here @em_originals) for encouraging me through the power of a good review to use the dress pattern I did.  Don’t you just love it when someone else has – and makes something of – the same vintage sewing pattern as one you have on hand?  It always feels so remarkably serendipitous.  She thoroughly and kindly answered my questions about what fabric she used and how her version came together.  Go take a look at how lovely her dress looks on her (see it here)!  Good things happen when sewists unite! 

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 90’s era polyester leftover from lining my 1996 Ungaro suit; fully lined in a beige polyester cut out of some microfiber bed sheets

PATTERN:  New Look #6306, year 1994

NOTIONS NEEDED:  I needed lots of thread and two zippers (I’ll explain why further down)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress took me about 20 hours’ worth of time and it was finished on November 4, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  The inner raw edges are left raw but there is a full body, floating lining which covers up the mess.

TOTAL COST:  practically free!!! Read on…

How I acquired the base materials for my Meg dress is a bit of an odd story.  Firstly, the printed fabric was practically free, being donated to a $1 a pound rummage sale.  The lining was a dirt cheap find of some gently used bed sheets.  Then, the pattern for this was actually picked out of the alley’s dumpster behind our house.  I couldn’t just leave a perfectly fine sewing supply behind when it was just an arm’s reach away…for free!  At first I was overly curious to find out who nearby sews like me (so I could meet them) and then I was struck by the fact that this single pattern was thrown away.  The fashion of the 90’s wasn’t always great but also wasn’t 100% trash.

It’s semi-explainable (especially when it comes to the 1920’s to 40’s) how certain eras of original sewing patterns have expanded in popularity and pricing in just the past 10 years yet it’s also odd how other eras remained static.  The 90’s and 2000 era patterns are clearly still underappreciated, largely disliked, and yes – often very recognizably stereotypical in styling.  Yet, now that my 1993 vehicle can officially register for “antique” license plates, it has made me think past the wry laugh and personal offense that news caused me.  I do see 90’s styles creeping into the RTW offerings and oddly being picked up by the younger generations who know nothing of the era like those of us who lived through it.  1990s logos, shows, and trends are as vintage to my 9 year old son as the 1960s were to me as a child.  My view of what constitutes “vintage” has been slowly changing along with my growing fascination for 1990s fashion.  I am understanding more than what meets the eye, and growing beyond my set prejudices towards how I regard the fashion of a decade within my lifetime.  I am not the only one, though.   

Colleen Hill is curator of costume and accessories at the prestigious Museum at FIT in New York.  Her upcoming, critically acclaimed special exhibition is entitled “Reinvention and Restlessness: Fashion in the Nineties”.  I recently received my order of the companion book to the exhibit and have since poured over the rich content.  It portrays a restless decade where the last 10 years before the turn of the century were “modern to retro, from glitz to glamour, from puritan to pretty, from military to minimal, only to max out at the finale with an opulent flourish of beading and a rash of irony.”  (Quote from Harper’s Bazaar writer Marion Hume’s December 1999 editorial.)  What I found the most interesting was the chapter on “Retro Revivals”. 

“Fashion historians often distinguish between the terms: ‘retro’ is generally used to describe clothing that was worn within living memory, and ‘historical’ encompasses influences from the more distant past” the book says.  Sadly, it doesn’t distinguish where “vintage” falls.  The book goes on to quote art historian Elizabeth Guffey, “Retro considers the recent past with an unsentimental nostalgia.”  So does this make the 90’s vintage to me and not retro, as I am nostalgic about growing up in that era while my son views 30 years ago in a curious but unsentimental way?  The quote continues, “It is unconcerned with the sanctity of tradition; indeed, (Retro) often insinuates a form of subversion while sidestepping historical accuracy.”  Ah, yes I do take a more accurate sewing outlook on my 50’s era and older things I make, but what if I do the same for my 90’s projects?  This post’s dress is sewn with a fabric and pattern truly from the era.  “1990s fashions were at once looking back and planted firmly.  Were creators scared of the future or simply celebrating the past?  It appears to be both” said the 90’s design critic Herbert Muschamp

No wonder I appreciate the 90’s!  It is a decade peppered with the influences of the past 20th century’s fashions, all of which I already sew, wear, and love.  I already frequently find a way to put a vintage spin on the modern clothing I make.  Furthermore, it is relieving to now embrace the styles and the modes of dressing from the 90’s that I admired on others and wanted to sport, but was too awkward or not in the right place to do so.  I also enjoy appreciating the last great era for USA made clothing and a recognizable continuity for long-standing design houses, as well as the beginning of an individualistic approach to fashion.  Thus, to me, based on where I am in life and the way I approach 90’s fashion, I am calling it vintage.  This might not be your view and that is fine.  After reading the FIT museum book, I believe that placing this era is up to each person’s interpretation.  If you haven’t noticed the subtle changes to my site happening in the last few months, I would like to point out there is now a decade page for my 1990’s creations added to the header bar of my blog.  I’m so happy to see it there and might add some of my teen years’ makes (which I still wear) on that page in the future.

That being said, I could not get away from a soft demonstration of one of the decade’s earliest and most memorable trends – grunge.  I never had and have not yet found the courage for a full blown embrace of the trend because I never liked the music scene tied to it, but deep down I’ve always still liked elements of it.  Grunge is about practicality over image, economic sense with second-hand items, and comfort pieces.  I wore a loose fitting, rayon knit turtle neck I picked out at a thrift shop back in early 2000s, so it’s possibly from the 90’s.  My little ballet flats have been with me many years, too, and I love the low-key toughness of the multiple buckles.  I am not above loving what I have on hand for many years.  My earrings (from this local shop) were the only new purchase for this outfit – they have Herc’s dad Zeus’s logo lightning bolt coming out of the cloud of Mount Olympus.

Grunge was a very anti-establishment movement, and designer Mark Jacobs (for Perry Ellis), actress Winona Ryder, and “Sonic Youth” band bassist Kim Gordon all were prominent influencers in the trend.  Part of Grunge for women was the wearing of pretty floral dresses from decades before in such a way that you pair them over a tank and pants with chunky black boots, a denim jacket, and a chunky sweater.  The Gunne Sax and Laura Ashley dresses of the 80’s were part of this, as well as the floaty vintage frocks of the 30’s, or the printed tees of the 60’s era.   The height of the Grunge aesthetic was short lived, though.  My FIT museum book “Fashion in the Nineties” says that Vogue editor Anna Wintour expressed relief in a 1994 letter to the editor, by saying Grunge was drifting out of fashion.  The way I interpreted my Megara dress hits all the right notes of 1994 fashion.  Granted this is a date 3 years earlier than the “Hercules” film, but as I associated my inspiration with Phoebe from “Friends”, which began in 1994, that year seemed like a good date to go with.  The year 1994 has so very many designs which are so similar to the point of redundancy – empire-waisted maxi dresses with princess seams.

After all of my rambling on about the era and provenance of it, this dress was actually very simple to sew.  It was a bit time consuming because of all the long seams, the full lining (which was merely a second copy of the dress), and the tiny hemming required.  Even still, I can’t believe I made a completely bone-headed mistake in the midst of construction.  I forgot to combine the back bodice pieces with the back skirt before sewing in a near perfect hand-picked zipper. 

Not every day is my best day, and some days I am just lucky to have the family’s basic necessities taken care of…but I was still devastated by my oopsie.  I powered on in the most non-impactful way by merely adding in a 5 inch separating zipper to the back bodice segment of this dress, above the lower 22 inch zipper.  Yes, I do end up with two zippers up the back.  Yes, I feel terrible about this.  There were tears involved.

Nevertheless, I am proud I made the best of it, resisting the urge to throw it across the room and give up, because I love this dress.  I don’t think the dual zippers are even noticeable, after all.  The fit to the pattern was spot on and I think the hem flaring looks spectacular.  My dress makes me feel very tall, elegant, and curvy.  I garner so many compliments when I wear this!  I can’t wait to continue to wear it as a sundress this summer.  Copying Meg’s manner of styling gives me the best excuse to also brush on my favorite purple eye shadow colors and draw my best winged eyeliner, too. 

The 1997 animated film “Hercules” was very much a product of its time – it references the “Buns of Steel” exercise videos as well as Nike’s famous Air Jordan sneakers,  the muses are merely a jazzy version of the group En Vogue, and then – for goodness sakes – Michael Bolton sings the theme song!  There was no way an ancient interpretation was going to be as wearable as a 90’s manner of looking at Megara, the human princess of Mount Olympus.  The fresh new write-up for the film was not remotely mythological accurate, after all, but still a fun kind of different for Disney’s Renaissance period.  This dress (jumper, depending on the weather) similarly has to be one of my most enjoyable and out-of-the-ordinary kind of ‘practical royalty’ make for my “Pandemic Princess” series.  Here’s a toast to the sassiest Disney princess of them all!

Besos

There is still all that snow outside you saw in my last post because we are in a rut of deep cold, with temperatures below freezing.  Having no place to go, nevertheless, can’t put a damper on the warmth of my Valentine’s Day sewing!  I’ve turned things up a notch for this year’s occasion with a spicy little number in a print so fun but totally out of my comfort zone.  I am literally covered in shiny red lipstick marks!  A lovely viscose blend base gives my bias flounced dress a flamenco flair.  It’s a perfectly swishy and showy to move in for such an outspoken print.  It has a bold and playful air.  I couldn’t resist to copy exactly the pattern’s model version when a similar fabric happened to come my way.

The word “besos” is used in Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese languages to mean “kisses”.  I think this multi-national word is an appropriately simple title for such a make, which is of a European pattern, fabric, and inspiration after all.  Personally, though, I cannot get the song “Botch-A-Mi” by Rosemary Clooney (year 1952) out of my head when I wear the dress.  As terribly hacked up the Italian language is in it, the fun song conveys the flair and energy I receive from my “Besos” dress, too.  After all, I do love a good, rich red lipstick…although in Covid times, I leave no lip print behind anymore in a 24-hour-wear formula.  Mwah!  Sending out some virtual love with this post.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a metallic foil printed viscose challis ordered from Minerva Fabrics

PATTERN:  Burda Style #110 “Flounce Dress” (now re-named the “Twill Dress”) from May 2015

NOTIONS NEEDED:  Nothing but thread and a bit of interfacing was needed.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  In total I spent 16 hours to make this dress, but that needs a breakdown which will be explained later in this post.  The dress was finished on January 8, 2021.

I made a fabric rose to match, as well as bought some earrings from Etsy to complete a heart bracelet my Aunt gave me years back.

THE INSIDES:  I cleanly covered the raw edges to the main body of the dress in a double zig-zag stitch.  The flounce hems were hand rolled – more on this further down.

 TOTAL COST:  a few yards of fabric cost me about $30

As odd as the print is for my taste, the construction was similarly interesting.  Sewing the dress itself was easy but the finishing was a long, straining process.  The main body fit me perfectly when I traced out my normal Burda size verbatim off of the magazine pattern insert (no extra fitting needed).  The princess seams were curvy but long, basic stitching to do.  To make things simple I eliminated the neckline facings to save myself some fuss and used wide bias tape instead.  I have installed too many invisible zippers to count now so doing so down the back seam was a bother yet not difficult.  Even the flounces were a bit challenging to add to the dress but not terrible to work with.  I did adapt the shoulders to add my own sleeves, but that wasn’t a problem either, only the fun part.  The hemming of all those flounced edges was the tiring part, because I reluctantly took the path of a higher quality.

First, though, more about my change to the sleeves and the shoulder line that led to the extra flounce hemming anyway.  The original design called for a thin sundress-style strap over the shoulders, to be covered up by oodles of ruffles which go around the entire arm opening and front chest to the dress.  I liked the look of this detailing, otherwise I would not have been interested in this pattern.  Yet, I found a similar ruffled sleeve and shoulder detailing in many mid 1930s evening gowns enough to sell me on the idea early on, even before I found a kiss print fabric. 

I was sorely disappointed.  Once pinned together, I did not like the original Burda pattern’s design which I admired through some 30’s inspiration and couldn’t go through with it.  The ruffles caused too much busyness for the elegance and princess-seamed slim lines in the body of the dress, and were very fussy to wear.  I felt like I always had to beat the ruffles down away from my face!  I could immediately picture some ugly staining upon the black crepe at the underarm ruffle – what a bad position for such a detail.   

Time for some customization!  I used the original strap pattern as a base to draft out my own piece which stretches over to the shoulder corner and fills in the armscye.  Then I chose to draft my own circle sleeves to complement the bottom flounce, the 30’s style, and swishy elegance of the rest of the dress.  I do believe such sleeves give my dress a very Spanish ‘flamenco dancer’ kind of air.  However, they did add a lot more length of hemming that needed to be done, for as much as I liked what they added to the dress’ appearance. 

Often, but not always, the prettiest things to sew sometimes also take the most time.  Bias cut flounces have not always been on that list, but they now are.  In years past, I have done a 3 step machine stitched hem of a bias flounce.  Staystitch ¼ inch from the raw edge, turn the edge under, stitch on the fold, clip the excess, and turn under again for a small machine made hem.  (This was done on the sleeves of my blue 30’s gown.) Such a process would’ve been much too complex for the yards and yards of hemming which this kisses dress needed.  I’ve never had good success with a specialty foot for such a purpose either, especially when there are seams to get in the way, although I made it work on this skirt

Most recently, I’ve normally relied on a local sewing room’s rent-to-use machines to make a tiny serged hem such as what I did here on this flounced edge wrap dress (post here).  As much as I did like how that stitching turned out it was not a rousing success.  The tiny hemming has tended to rip off of the edge of the fabric – bummer.  Did I really want to do that again, anyway?  Besides, I don’t currently have convenient access to a serger (overlocker).  No, I needed a better, cleaner way. 

I wanted to use this project as a spur to learn the proper way to make a hand worked rolled hem.  I see such a detail on all of the couture gowns I have been able to examine at museums and fashion exhibits.  It is not hard to do, just very tiny, time consuming work, one of the favorite stamps of pride to anything designer.  Not that this dress is remotely close to anything like that, but the color black hides lots of flaws.  Thus, I figured this would be my ‘training’ piece to get the knack down before needing it for a high-class project.  

After watching a few different internet videos and written tutorials to have a preliminary lesson, I dove right in.  I soon discovered I needed to wear a head lamp for the whole hemming job and could have used some magnifying glasses, too.  You need to only grab a few threads at the points you catch the fabric.  It is tricky, but after a few hours in on the job I found my pattern of both proper stitch spacing and a comfortable arm level at which to sew.  In all I spent 8 hours on the dress and then I am crazy enough to go and spend 8 hours on the hand stitching – 5 hours for the bottom flounce, and 1 ½ hours on each sleeve hem. 

This hand rolled hem job demonstrates more than anything else recent my dedication to both what and why I sew…only it is such a sadly subtle, unnoticed detail.  I would almost prefer it to be a bold statement, but then, my whole me-made wardrobe is a testimonial to that in itself.  Rather, I’ve had the privilege to look at the famous original Schiaparelli “Lobster” dress up close, as well as the best Dior and Lee McQueen garments, for just a few instances.  You know what?  The unassuming details on all of them combine with the pretentious particulars to make such iconic pieces all the more impressive.  A hand rolled hem is the wall-flower, who deserves all the credit, in the back of a room while the person hailed by the crowd only did half of the work.  To make that amazing outfit which delights the eyes from afar, well-crafted finishings are only a silent whisper which adds to the loud presence of a good-looking sewing creation. 

This simple little Valentine’s dress has something in common with them now, and even if I’m the only one that sees that, I’m happy.  There is in inner drive behind such a detail, I do believe, a love of the beauty to the craft of sewing, no matter if the maker you or me or McQueen.  It’s nice to feel that these techniques make couture feel attainable for the home seamstress, but I find it more fulfilling to find through them a camaraderie with the designers I respect.  It gives me a personal sense of pride, too.  I’m not just making clothes to wear.  It’s bigger than that – but this post also needs to be shorter than the time it would take me to emotionally vent about it here. 

So, I’ll wrap this post up by saying I’ll imagine all the kisses on my dress are for all of you my blog readers, all of those along the way whose posts have inspired me, the relatives and friends who have supported my sewing journey, and the wonderful people who have brightened my day with a compliment or a chat because I am wearing something I made.   My love goes to my family, especially – yes, always.  My little photo bombing fur baby is always there to give his canine compassion, help me laugh, and share the love, too.  I hope this Valentine ’s Day finds you and yours happy.  Hopefully, it will be a good day to wear something that signifies how you feel inside, like me!  Besos!